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Agile works for Parliament

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Collaboration culture, Continuous iteration, Cultural values, Simplicity

An kanban board showing tasks to do, doing and done

As part of the Digital Strategy a transformation of Parliament’s technology infrastructure is underway. We're migrating services to the cloud and redesigning our network to support Parliament’s digital ambitions. Here Steve O’Connor talks about his experience of using agile methods to bring about changes in technology.

You hear a lot about agile when you work in, or with, the Parliamentary Digital Service (PDS). It’s how we do things. Every day there are stand ups, show and tells and people discussing how their sprint is going. It's transforming how we deliver and what we deliver. It's changing the culture and what we expect of each other.

But can agile work when applied to more traditional IT projects such as networks and servers? The PDS technology teams recently had the opportunity to find out.

The decision to adopt agile methods where possible was deliberate. We must make technological changes to bring the benefits of cloud technology to Parliament, and using agile is a step towards cultural and capability change too. It means our technology teams and development teams can have shared language and ways of working.

Agile has transformed the way the technology team is working

Agile and scrum have created a strong sense of ownership and accountability in the delivery teams. The teams are empowered to plan their  two week sprints of work. Working in the open means that progress and challenges are transparent and understood.

Agile has given permission for teams to learn, iterate, and improve. More traditional planning approaches such as Prince2 give little allowance for unplanned events or uncertainty. If something changes then it has a major impact on plans, often affecting morale in the team too.

Using agile methods, the teams can react to events and adapt accordingly. Also, if things don’t go to plan the team can immediately feed any lessons learnt into the next sprint, or into wider planning. As a result, teams can take their next steps confidently and morale remains high even if something doesn’t go as planned.

An example of agile in practice

The best example I can give of the technology team – and subsequently our users in Parliament – benefitting from using agile methods comes from the end of 2016 . Things weren’t quite going to plan for the team. We had to pause migrations into Azure (Microsoft’s cloud computing platform) due some network issues. If we were living in a world of Prince2, there’s no doubt we would have started to write and issue Exception Reports. Personally, I can’t help but equate Exception Reports to writing lines…

I will not miss a deadline.

I will not miss a deadline.

I will not miss a deadline.

Reporting on the situation in this way would have left the team deflated before the Christmas break and the problem would be no closer to being solved.

In the event, the team took control. We planned to resolve the network problems during the next sprint and moved forward quickly. The sprint was successful, we sorted the problem and the project moved on. That’s the thing about agile - it accepts that not everything will run smoothly, and the scope of any project can change over time.

Agile has made us a stronger team

The rituals associated with agile (daily stand ups, show and tells and sprint planning) have united us. They've created a strong sense of team identity and purpose and this has helped us to work better with colleagues across PDS. I've never been involved in a programme where the team is working so well together, with a clear common purpose.

Right, I’m off to play planning poker to estimate how long it will take to move a data centre.

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